Interview with costume designer Vanessa Mulholland
From the Film and Festivals print mag:
Costume designer Vanessa Mulholland has had some interesting jobs – being a croupier, working in a mental hospital, making stained glass – but it was her love of making clothes, instilled by her mother, that led her towards a film career.
Currently on a BBC traineeship, North London-born Vanessa studied Fashion and Textiles at the London College of Fashion, graduating in 2006. During the course, she assisted on a short film, and “was hell-bent, almost obsessed, on doing that ever since.”
When did you first realise that you enjoy making clothes?
My mum taught me how to knit and sew. I used to make costumes for my younger foster brother’s teddy. It’s only now I appreciate what she taught me. I’ve kind of built my life around it. She was a nurse, but she made clothes in her spare time. The long hours, the really stressful situations in her job – it must have been relaxing. Later on, I took a machine knitting course, which led to my interest in the fashion and textiles degree.
How did you start working in film?
I heard that someone was looking for a costume assistant on a short film. I got in touch and it went from there. The film was about urban youths growing up, struggling through their teenage years, searching for their identities. It was very well produced, a good start. After that experience, I started looking for assisting work on websites such as shootingpeople.org and mandy.com. It’s very rare to get paid work at the start, but it’s a great way to find collaborators, share ideas, start a portfolio.
Is there an average day in your line of work? What’s it like?
We spend a lot of time with the actors, mainly. Sometimes we have to talk to make-up, production and the art department. Money and time makes it difficult to do all that sometimes. You have to make sure you’re not putting people in clothes that are the same colour as the background, or something like that! Sometimes, with props, you don’t know if it’s costumes or art – say, when you need a walk-talkie or a briefcase. Communication is the important thing. You can’t miss anything – when you make a mistake, it can be the most obvious, awful thing, it can ruin a scene. People often don’t recognise the job for what it is. The costumes should make the direction, acting and writing come forward. Our job is to be not noticed, really – and it’s very hard work!
How is the BBC traineeship going?
I’m on a one year costume design traineeship, ending in September. There are two people in costume and four in production on the scheme each year. I heard about it through a friend, and it’s advertised in The Guardian. You apply through sending in a portfolio and then through interviews. It’s a very long, strenuous process. It went on for about six months. It’s hard to keep yourself motivated through it. You have to brace yourself to not get it… for that amount of time! I’ve worked on a number of programmes – sitcoms, dramas – although I can’t go into too much detail until after they come out! I’m based wherever the production team are. You do get to experience studio work, location work, how it all gets put together.
What are your plans for afterwards?
I think that it would have taken me five years to gain all the experience I’ve had in the last year, thanks to the BBC. When the internship finishes, I’ll be freelance, like everyone else in the industry. I’m looking forward to learning more – and who knows where it’ll all lead?